What is the impact of obesity on our body and mental health?

Published 21 Jun 2021 • By Candice Salomé

Obesity is a chronic condition that corresponds to an excess of body fat and to a change in adipose tissue. It causes many health problems and can reduce life expectancy. In the UK, 26% of adults are obese. Besides its impact on health, it can also take a significant toll on mental health.

So what are the causes of obesity? What is its impact on health? What impact can obesity have on the psyche and why?

We explain it all in our article!

What is the impact of obesity on our body and mental health?

What is obesity and what causes it?

Obesity affects a large proportion of the world's population. According to the WHO, 39% of adults worldwide are overweight and 13% are obese. Since 1975, the number of cases of obesity has almost tripled.

In the UK, obesity affects 26% of adults. In children, it affects 27% of boys and 20% of girls. These figures have remained stable over the last decade.

Obesity is a true public health issue due to its growing epidemiology, affecting younger and younger individuals.

Obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. Therefore, this imbalance gives rise to an accumulation of stored reserves in the fatty tissue.

The causes of obesity are complex and numerous, but we can mainly note a profound change in pace of life, diet and reduction in physical activity.

What are the health risks associated with obesity?

Being overweight or obese predisposes one to other health conditions and reduces quality of life and life expectancy. 

Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormally high levels of fats (cholesterol and/or triglycerides) in the blood
  • Coronary heart disease or angina pectoris
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Arteritis of the lower limbs.

In addition, excess weight and obesity are responsible for 44% of type 2 diabetes cases. Cancer, on the other hand, can be attributed to obesity in 7% to 41% of cases depending on the location.

According to the WHO, excess weight and obesity are recognised as the fifth leading cause of death, causing approximately 2.8 million deaths per year.

What impact does obesity have on mental health?

Apart from the health risks associated with obesity, this condition gives rise to a great deal of prejudice and stigma. A WHO/Europe study in 2017 found that 18.7% of obese people are stigmatised. This figure rises to 38% in cases of severe obesity. People with obesity are stigmatised by teachers, employers, health professionals, the media and even by their friends and family.

Stigma is one of the root causes of health inequalities and has many important physiological and psychological consequences: increased cases of depression and anxiety and low self-esteem are among them. 

Stigma can also lead to eating disorders in individuals who suffer from it and cause them to avoid physical activity and medical care.

Obesity is often associated with psychological issues that manifest themselves in several ways. Overall, these issues are characterised by a combination of disordered thinking, perception, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.

Obesity and depression have been shown to frequently co-exist, and the latter is observed more frequently in obese people than in people with a normal weight.

However, the cause remains unclear. Depression can either be the cause of obesity or the consequence. 

On the one hand, the loss of enthusiasm for life symptomatic in depression may influence the way people eat, leading to a preference for 'junk food'. The lack of physical activity resulting from a lack of motivation linked to depression also has a role to play in the development of excess weight or obesity.

On the other hand, obesity frequently leads to low self-esteem and social stigma that can in turn lead to depression.

In the meta analysis by Luppino et al., it is shown that obesity increases the lifetime risk of developing depression by 55% and that depression increases the risk of obesity by 58%.

Several psychological and biochemical mechanisms are common to obesity and depression.

It is therefore important to consider looking for a mental illness in an individual with obesity and managing weight in an individual with a mental illness. Combined treatment may result in more successful weight loss, improved quality of life and a decreased risk of developing obesity-related comorbidities.

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avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialises in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sport. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


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